Chang'e-3 probe sets out on new missions

Updated: 2014-01-17 01:54

By Zhao Lei (China Daily)

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The Chang'e-3 lunar probe has started its long-term scientific missions and will have its durability tested when it continues lunar surface surveys, sources with the Beijing Aerospace Control Center said on Thursday.

The center transferred operations of the probe to a smaller management team on Wednesday night, said Cui Yan, who leads the team at the center.

"We have made all the hardware and software ready for the long-term control tasks and have developed new management methods," Cui said, noting this is the first time China would operate a lunar probe for as long as one year.

Liu Junqi, one of the chief engineers on Cui's team, said that during the yearlong task the team will coordinate deep-space control stations around the nation to closely monitor the Chang'e-3 lander and the Yutu rover, and to arrange scientific missions on the lunar surface.

One of the major responsibilities for the team is to put the lander and rover into sleep mode when the lunar night falls and "awaken them" once the night ends, he said.

One night on the moon lasts about 14 Earth days, during which the temperature falls below minus 180 C and there is no sunlight to provide power for the instruments' solar panels.

"The transfer of control marks the successful completion of the probe's first stage of exploration and scientific missions," said a publicity officer at Beijing Aerospace Control Center who refused to be named.

He said under the long-term management mode, the lander and rover do not need a lot of people to take care of them, therefore Cui's team, which has less than 20 people, is able to take over from the current large control group.

"Next, the team will control the probe to perform scientific operations that can last several months. Engineers will test whether the lander and rover can function well over a long period and whether they can live up to their designed life span," the officer added. "During the yearlong period, the team's controllers and engineers will work about 15 consecutive night shifts each month, so this is really a tough job."

The lunar rover Yutu has a designed life span of three months, and the lander is expected to work for one year.

After waking up following nearly two weeks of dormancy, Yutu completed its first sampling of lunar soil using its mechanical arm on Tuesday, the Beijing center said.

"Accuracy control of the mechanical arm at a distance of 380,000 kilometers has been realized in the probe, marking China's breakthrough in controlling a mechanical arm with high precision on the lunar surface," said Wu Fenglei from the center.

Yutu will continue to survey the moon's geological structure and surface substances and look for natural resources, while the lander will explore the landing site until the end of its life span.